LOVESICK leaves the viewer like a partygoer with an empty stomach, stuffed with a vast array of reheated gimmicks from other movies but still lacking a satisfying main course. This latest Hollywood release stars Dudley Moore as another New York psychiatrist who falls in love with his lovely neurotic patient (Elizabeth McGovern) to the accompaniment of innumerable cute gimmicky scenes. In both content and style, the material proves merely a rehash of past comedies, romantic comedies, and comedies about psychiatry.
The plot is standard romantic comedy fare. A successful married man falls passionately in love with his young, talented patient, and a few unusual plot twists do not compensate for the otherwise bland progression of the storyline. The standard comedic treatment of psychiatry as a profession--which makes Saul Benjamin, the Dudley Moore character, slowly turn as nutty as most of his patients, while the script simultaneously mocks all other psychiatrists with their idiosyncracies--falls flat this time because each gag seems isolated, expected to sustain itself. Benjamin's patient merely represent all the familiar crazies of past sitcoms, such as the patient who thinks he is a bird or the frustrated middle-aged woman who drones on and on. One particularly bizarre patient, who collects trash and wears paper foil to shield himself from the sun's rays, seems thrown in as yet another side of the confused psychiatric profession. No one convincing message about psychiatry links the film's diffuse jibes.
An unsteady pastiche takes its place. For instance, Sigmund Freud (Sir Alec Guinness) pops up from time to time as Benjamin's mystical mentor, constantly reminding him of his breaches in psychiatric practice as well as his own unstable state of mind. Freud's witty, satirical comments do not ring true, though; instead, they remind us of Humphrey Bogart's advice to Woody Allen throughout Play It Again, Sam. Similar takeoffs from other films dot the rest of Lovesick as well, including Moore's sequences of drunkenness that mirror those in Arthur two years ago.
BENJAMIN'S DEVELOPING PASSION for his patient. Chloe, follows the usual pattern for middle-aged men who lust after beautiful, available young women. His marriage gets shoved into nebulous dimensions and isn't brought back until late in the movie, when it turns out that his wife too is having an affair. Immorality as an issue never comes up: Benjamin's seduction of Chloe seems not only hackneyed but the norm for society as a whole.
Moore's portrayal of the psychiatrist who becomes as batty and sick as most of his patients is filled with the actor's typical English bawdiness. His movements and lines seem overly staged, however, especially a clumsy sequence which places the doctor in Chloe's shower. Moore specializes in nincompoop bumbling, so such inevitably stupid scenes crop up frequently. One dinner Benjamin has with the board of psychiatrists contains a few funny lines, but the characters speaking them--including the victimized doctor--come across as inanely one-dimensional.
McGovern has done for better in previous roles which gave her more to work with, such as Timothy Hutton's pseudo-girlfriend in Ordinary People. In that movie she successfully captured the mental difficulties that helped delineate the character. As Chloe, though, she doesn't even get a handle on the zaniness and sensuality needed to make the character plausible. Her voice seems unnecessarily monotone at times, and her actions are nowhere near sultry enough to turn Benjamin's life topsy-turvy--even in the scenes where she discusses her fantasies with him.
Lovesick comes across as a patchwork portrayal of a mid-life crisis, and all the allusions to psychological theories serve only to distract attention from the equally unfocused action. Director-writer Marshall Brickman tried too hard, and too obviously, to keep the film constantly hilarious with devices like Freud's commentary and Benjamin's exotic fantasies. But these devices end up annoying the viewer because they don't fit smoothly into the plot.
Instead of working up to the stupendous climax which the hectic comic pace demands, Lovesick merely runs out of things to show, and--after only 90 minutes--concludes on a typically sappy boy-gets--girl note. Successful contemporary comedy demands a more innovative approach; captivated too many times already by a vast assortment of comedic episodes, audiences rightly expect a four-dollar ticket price to buy them cleverness, not redundancy.
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